Blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.
The Church’s calendar has brought us to the end of Lent and to the beginning of another Holy Week. This Lent has been unlike any other we have known. It is similar to past Lenten seasons in an ecclesiastical sense; forty days in length, more frequent Scripture reading, more intense and directed prayer, and acts of disciplined sacrifice. This was expected. From a medical, biological, and social perspective, this Lenten season has been unprecedented. The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically and drastically altered our lives and still dominates our lives at home, at our employment, and certainly with our lives of worship. I read on a website a week ago where a man quipped, “This is a little more than I wanted to give up for Lent.” So this Lent has been like no other and on this Palm Sunday we begin a Holy Week that will most assuredly be like no other.
Prayers are asked for those afflicted with the virus, healthcare workers trying to combat the spread of the virus and caring for those infected, all those in any way affected by the virus, and all those in countries around the world battling the virus.
Holy Week re-presents for us those central acts through which Our Lord has brought us salvation. It is therefore the center of our Church Year. It is the holiest and most solemn period. Our lives as Christians all through the next year depend on and are derived from, what we live through spiritually this next week. One of the tragedies, among many tragic events brought on by the battle against the Coronavirus, is we will not have the Holy Week liturgies in our parish Churches. The opportunities we have to keep Holy Week will have to be different. The commemoration we have of those precious events of Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His institution of the Mass and giving us the New Commandment to love one another, His crucifixion that wrought forgiveness, and his glorious Resurrection with the gift of everlasting life, will all be remembered in different ways given our severely altered circumstances. Every attempt we can make to remember these holy days will only emphasize how central they are to our lives as Christians.
There is a unifying aspect between how we have kept Lent and how we have fought the awful virus. It lies in our efforts as a community. The way we attempted to keep Lent with our Lenten Journey programs allowed us to keep our disciplines together. We read the same Scripture readings on the same days. We gave up the same material things during the same weeks. We prayed the same prayers of petition, intercession, thanksgiving, confession, and adoration at the same time. It was a communal effort. We were trying to grow spiritually together. On a larger but similar scale, we are being asked to make sacrifices as a nation. We are asked to stay-in-our homes as much as we can. We are asked to give to organizations that will help provide protection and needed equipment to our health care workers. Our families are asked to help, if we can, those who cannot get the essential things they need like food and medicines, or essential life-supporting needs. We could keep Lent as a parish family and we can fight to overcome this pandemic as a national family. Keeping Lent and defeating Covid-19 are both bringing us together in ways that will make us spiritually stronger.
Reliving these events in Holy Week that confront us rapidly and intensely are intended to remind us of all that God has done for us in His Son Jesus Christ. Calling back to our memories means more than “thinking” about them. We remember them by reliving them and thereby entering them in a very real, spiritual way. Those events are brought back to us to relive them in the present. That is why celebrating Holy Week is so central and essential to our individual Christian lives and the life of the Church. It’s why we relive it over and over.
This repetition we have in our Common Prayer Tradition, preserved for us in our Prayer Book, by saying the same prayers at the same time and in the same way, is intended to jog our memories. Not only do we say the same prayers at the same time, but also we do the same things from year to year. We recall the law that was given to Moses. We call to mind time after time what Jesus said and did. We bring back all that happened in those precious days before our Lord’s earthly ministry was ended. We do this for a very good reason. We want to have our memories imbued with the images from the Bible. We want the images that were revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures to become a part of ourselves. We want our souls informed so they can be formed.
The whole purpose of living through another Holy Week is that if we don’t live through it one more time two things may happen. One, we might forget and grace will not have an opportunity to convict and convert us. Every time we go through Holy Week, or the Church Year for that matter, the holy words and images from Scripture are brought back to mind and made present. When they come to our minds, they inform our souls. They are indeed saving images, because God reveals them to us. The images I speak of are the acts that God performed; saving the Israelites from slavery by parting the waters of the Red Sea. The resurrection of the bones in the valley of death spoken of by the Prophet Ezekiel. The image of the heavenly city Jerusalem. The images of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross and rising three days later to save us from sin. These are just a few of the hundreds of images presented to us.
The second reason to repeat Holy Week is when the images come to inform our souls, grace has the opportunity to strengthen, comfort and guide us back to the source of our lives, that is Jesus Christ. These images open our hearts and minds to what God has done for us to make us open to grace. The goal is to build in us clean souls. Each time we relive the Church Year and more immediately when we relive another Holy Week we are opening ourselves to God’s grace by recalling revealed images. It is only in bringing back to our memories what God has done for us that the right images are preserved for us and for our children. The revealed images that are God-given have been the reason Christianity has survived and even flourished. Thank God that we have the images from the Bible to keep us in the right faith and believing the right things.
Our Palm Sunday is marked by hearing The Passion according to Saint Matthew. We cannot have the dramatic singing of the Passion done in parts this year. We will have to hear it or read it on our own. Take time today to read it. It will help us brace ourselves to relive those images all week. Then read the Passion according to Saint John on Good Friday to relive that awful death and remind ourselves that we put Jesus there on the Cross. On Saturday reread the passages describing our salvation history from the Prayer Book’s liturgy for The Great Vigil of Easter. The whole of salvation history will reveal to us once again why we need a savior. It is all so we do not forget, because we must tell our children. But memory is far more than just an intellectual exercise to preserve history. We hear these stories and call them to mind because the stories are true and give us the saving teaching, doctrine the Church calls it, that comes only from God through His Son Jesus Christ. When that happens, grace comes to us to save us. That is what Holy Week and Easter are all about.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.